The good news first: We had no cases of cork taint and only one wine showed traces of reduction. I am delighted with the latter – when I started helping out with the Masters Series in 2015 we would often have a dozen or so reductive red wines in each tasting. We had one or two wines that showed some clumsy oxidative traits. There were also a couple of suspected cases of Brettanomyces. The most shocking fault occurred with wine 139: the first bottle was hideously volatile (complete with tell-tale surface deposit) but strangely the second bottle was completely clean. As far as I could see both bottles were from the same batch – very odd.
Overall Quality and Styles
Whinge One. Once we got clear of the entry point (more on this below) there were some very good wines. However, there were also a significant of number wines that showed poor handling of tannins and/or clumsy use of oak.
Whinge Two. At the top end I can understand why producers are striving for more harmony and finesse. However, I would appeal to them not to forget that it was the deeply coloured, richly fruity, full bodied but supply tannic versions of Malbec that put the grape variety (and for most consumers in the UK and US the vinous identity of Argentina) on the map. There is no shortage of weedy anaemic red wine in the world so why try to produce more?
I. We squeezed a decent number of Silvers out of the <£10 category but try as we might we could not manage a Gold. At this entry point level the better wines were juicy and gluggable. Amongst the poorer wines there was evidence of less than brilliant fruit (some wines showed jamminess and greenness simultaneously – never a good sign) and amateurish use of oak. I had thought that the days of poorly integrated oak (be it chips, staves or barrels) were largely behind us but there was plenty of evidence today to the contrary. I cannot but conclude that the massive demand for cheap Malbec has led some winemakers to cut corners and “cobble together” wines to hit a price point. Being a little more charitable, it has to be said that the precarious state of the economy in Argentina cannot make obtaining winemaking supplies (such as oak) cheap.
II. Given the above, it should be no surprise that there was a massive step up in quality with the £10-15 wines (much more than say our recent foray with Syrah). It is amazing what decent quality fruit can achieve! It was great to find a Gold (113) at this moderate price point. The £15-20 bracket yielded even richer pickings with three Golds (118, 122 and 123). More Golds (129 and 130) and a Master (133) followed in the £20-30 category. We ended in a blaze of glory with a Gold (134) and two Masters (135 and 136) at the £30-50 price level. In conclusion, there was no evidence of “mid-price/range sag” (something we often see with other varieties) and that to a large extent it seems that with Malbec “what you pay is what you get”.
Argentina dominated the entries and dominated the top of the medal table. All of our Golds and Masters came from this country. It should also come as no surprise that all of our star wines were from Mendoza except for wine 118, which was from San Juan.
Studying the crib sheet after the tasting I was fascinated to find that the vintages for our Golds and Masters covered every year from 2018 to 2012 inclusive, including the problematical 2016 harvest. I guess that this shows that despite some shocking weather events, and some big swings in crop size, Argentina can make excellent Malbecs in most years.